The rest of the Bucs' season will be about player development -- one player in particular: quarterback Josh Freeman.
The rookie won his first NFL start last Sunday, throwing for three touchdowns in a come-from-behind 38-28 win over the Green Bay Packers.
Freeman, 21, made plenty of mistakes. But he showed poise under pressure and finished three red zone drives with touchdown passes.
The next step will be backing up that performance with another good one at Miami on Sunday.
Tampa Bay won its first game last week against the Packers under coach Raheem Morris. That took a lot of the pressure out of the team's training complex. At 1-7, however, it's anything but a satisfied feeling.
But the Bucs are hoping not to take a slide backward against the 3-4 Dolphins, who present a host of problems for Tampa Bay's defense.
What is Morris hoping to see from his young team the second half of the season?
"Steady improvement," Morris said. "Now Josh Freeman's in our offense so hopefully you can see steady improvement in our offense every game. I don't know if he's going to go out and throw three touchdowns again, but you just want to see steady improvement. The mistakes you make you don't want to see them repeat. You want to at least get new mistakes. You want to see guys build around him and play around him faster and play harder around him. You want to see the defense improving on what they did in the fourth quarter in the second half a little bit, getting the ball back and scoring, coming up with six sacks. You want to improve on some of those things.
"They got a little bit better in that second half. They got a little bit better starting the first half and coming on really from the second play on. They had some pretty good plays. They had the chance to get some three and outs, had a chance to be exciting. The stadium was live and it's where we want to go in Tampa. It's what you want to see us improve on. You want to see your team not live in that moment or try to stay in that moment, but improve on those things and get better and better."
Where the Bucs need to show even more improvement is on defense. The Bucs sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers six times and intercepted him three times last week. But they gave up more than 400 yards of offense, including two deep passes.
"We had to play against it a little bit last year," Morris said. "A lot of people play zero coverage to it, some people play single safety. The bottom line when playing Wildcat is somebody has to defeat a block, somebody has to make a play, somebody has to be aggressive. Like we always say the more physical, violent team is going to win and that's just the case with Miami right now. They have a downhill running team that's strong and able to do it on just about anybody. They're scary. They have Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown and all of those type of guys and they're coming at you full speed and they're coming at you fresh and they're coming at you rapid. Sometimes they take the quarterback out of the game and leave those guys in there just to do it and it's not even a trick 'em thing anymore. It's just who they've become and who they are."
But the Dolphins only use the Wildcard formation about 10 percent of the time. So the Bucs have to be prepared for quarterback Chad Henne and company.
"Yeah, they can turn around and hand it off to those two guys too," Morris said. "It's just nice change up for those guys not having a blocker. You can remember vividly from the TV game that they had against Indy they used it a couple of times and if it works a lot, just like anything else, they'll keep doing it. If you stop it or knock it out, they'll go to the next package and keep it moving. These guys are going to do what they do. You know a lot about Dan Henning. You have a lot of respect for Dan Henning. His days at Carolina and all the stuff he's done. He's consistent. He's a great self-scouter of himself. He's a great self-evaluator of himself. ... He's always doing different things. He's always doing different elements. He has some tendencies that he likes to do of course. Obviously like every other coordinator you have some things you like to do and you teach it well and you do it well. He's done a lot of good things against the Bucs. We have a lot of respect for that offense."
Needless to say, the Bucs have had to spend extra time this week preparing for the Wildcat.
"You definitely have to work on it," Morris said. "There's no doubt about it. You have to something different or you have to do something the same, you have to do it better. It's option football. It's Hofstra going to play Elon back in the day. It's Navy going to play Notre Dame and you have to get ready to prepare and you have to do what you have to do that week. Whatever you are going to do special, whatever you are going to rely on as your natural strengths, it's all of those things."
--Credit the Bucs special teams for producing some big plays this season -- albeit not in the kicking game.
Tampa Bay has three made field goals, the fewest in the NFL. And punter Dirk Johnson ranks 29th in the league. But the Bucs lead the league in kickoff returns with a 30-yard average. Two weeks after suffering a concussion on an illegal hit, KR Clifton Smith returned a kickoff 83 yards to spark a rally in the fourth quarter against Green Bay.
--QB Josh Freeman scrambled and slid a yard shy of a first down on the fourth play from scrimmage on Sunday. He was embarrassed by the gaffe.
That's according to offensive coordinator Greg Olson who is still ribbing his young quarterback. And Freeman is hearing it from someone else, too: Former Bucs QB Jeff Garcia. He called Olson and left a message that he asked the coach to play for Freeman.
"That was not what you expect to see from him," Olson said. "I said, 'I don't know where you learned that or practiced that.' Coming out of college, I'd never seen that from him. In the preseason, he never slid, so that was kind of a shock to everybody.
"I got a phone message from Jeff Garcia who broke his nose last year trying to get a first down. He said, 'Let him listen to what I have to say about that.' We talked in the quarterback (meeting) room about that. 'What do you want your reputation in the league to be? You want to be a tough guy. You're 6-5 and 260 pounds.' We looked back on the replay and the two defenders who were coming up to tackle him weren't really aggressively coming at him. I think they were kind of backing up as he was going toward them. It was a good lesson for him."
--Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted he was worried about his team's demeanor entering the game, especially coming off an emotional loss to rival Minnesota last week.
"We were concerned as a team coming in here," McCarthy. "I don't care who you play or what their record is, especially when you play a team on the road after a bye, it's a little bit more of a challenge. I'm not trying to make excuses. We did not play at the level that we needed to play at for four quarters today and that starts with me."
BY THE NUMBERS:
1 - Number of NFL wins for Bucs coach Raheem Morris and rookie QB Josh Freeman, who beat the Packers in his starting debut.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I don't think we can. We are 1-7. We're not competing for the NFC Championship game yet. They've got to come in this week and grow off what they did the week before. Hard work paid off. How they practiced last week in pads paid off." -- Bucs coach Raheem Morris on whether the Bucs can exhale after their first win.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Bucs placed S Will Allen (broken thumb) and LB Rod Wilson (hamstring) on injured reserve. They re-signed LB Matt McCoy and promoted CB Derrick Roberson from the practice squad. Allen is the Bucs special teams captain, so that will be a big blow.
--QB Josh Freeman said he was "embarrassed," by sliding short of a first down in the first series of his first NFL start against Green Bay Sunday.
--S Will Allen was placed on injured reserve with a broken left thumb. He was the special teams captain and backup safety to Tanard Jackson and Sabby Piscitelli. S Corey Lynch will take his spot in the rotation.
--LB Rod Wilson suffered a torn hamstring against Green Bay on Sunday and was placed on injured reserve. Wilson had battled the injury since the second week of the season.
--LB Matt McCoy was signed to replace Rod Wilson as the Bucs' backup middle linebacker.
--WR Antonio Bryant continues to struggle trying to recover from knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in training camp. Bryant missed last week's game against the Packers.